Business «sans frontières!»

Ensuring that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) are equipped with the language skills they need for success was the aim of Commissioner Vassiliou, as she spoke at a unique business round-table for multilingualism on 24 September.

Over two days in the Berlaymont and Breydel buildings, over 120 people from both business backgrounds and Member State education ministries came together to exchange knowledge and views on the important role that languages play in a business strategy. The event was organised to draw attention to the European day of languages 2010.

«Companies are not abstract entities«, commented Commissiner Vassiliou. «It is people that make them work. Not only international companies, but increasingly, small companies and public administrations, are looking for multilingual people. With language skills, you have not just one, but many markets open to you.«

However, only 8% of Europe’s 20 million SMEs currently engage in cross-border trade. Too many companies don not take the plunge because they fear their language skills are not up to the job.

Participants at the event underlined that if you can speak the language of the customer your success rate is significantly higher and many successful companies who engage in multilingual strategies only consider expanding into a market when they have the language capabilities within their team. This tells us that for small and medium-sized enterprises there is a need to be flexible and adapt. It is no longer enough to rely on English being the common denominator language.

The EU encourages language development through education and training programmes, funding cross-border projects, partnerships and exchanges for schools, universities and vocational training as well as exchange programmes like Erasmus – where young people learn new skills through studying abroad.

Other EU initiatives target entrepreneurs and companies directly like the databank for job seekers, EURES, which tries to match supply and demand on the labour market.

A video summary of the round-table is available via the webstreaming portal.

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